The beginning of the annual pilgrimage to Sri Pada, also known as Adam’s Peak, makes us reflect on the cultural harmony that exists when pilgrims make the journey together as one.
People from all walks of life make the trek through a cleared path which can turn into a rough terrain at times. The fit and strong walk with ease, but there are those who turn to prayers and chanting to make the grind to the top. This is where the main shrine is and holds the footprint of the sacred one: Gautama Buddha for Buddhists, Adam for Muslims, Lord Shiva for Hindus and St. Thomas’
Never have we heard of differences between devotees when making this trek with the practice of making this pilgrimage dating to the time of King Valagambahu (104-76 BC) who is said to have discovered Sri Pada.
The trek this year is important because it is taking place at a time when there has been some disharmony between the majority Buddhists, Muslims, Tamils and Christians. This year’s April 21 Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks made innocent Muslims come under the wrath of critics who frowned at those behind causing the carnage. Things took a different turn when the Christian community in Negombo, a place which suffered much as a result of one of the blasts at a leading church, voted for a New Democratic Front candidate who was being supported by many Muslim lawmakers. It was alleged that some of these lawmakers had links with those who carried out the suicide attacks. There was also the issue where Buddhists called for stern action against a doctor from Kurunegala who was alleged to have conducted sterilization operations on mothers who came for caesarean operations.
There was also the tension-filled incident where the remains of a Buddhist monk were cremated at a temple premises in Mullaitivu amid protests from Tamil villages. The funeral took place despite the issuing of a court order which banned the conducting of the funeral rites at certain temple premises.
Hence 2019 has been a year of turmoil and stress for Sri Lanka at large because community tensions flared up time and again.
Now we will see the people of different communities coming together to make the pilgrimage. There have been several occasions when the Sinhala Buddhist devotees have been taken to Nallathanni, where the trek begins, in a hired vehicle often driven by a Tamil driver. We see and hear of many mixed marriages now among Sri Lankans. It’s so beautiful when parents of different religions make children get accustomed to a religion practised by another. We should be comfortable with different religions being practised in the island and not be threatened by them.
And what a great opportunity like the pilgrimage Sri Pada offers everyone to unite and come under the umbrella called religion.
The tail-end part of the year is wonderful in the sense that there are so many religious activities lined up on the cards. We have Christmas in December, the pilgrimage to Adam’s Peak also starts in December and so does the preparing for the rugged jungle journey to Sabarimala temple in South India through a tiger reserve.
Hence December is a month of penance and there are many who refrain from certain worldly activities which are termed as ones that ‘contaminate’ the mind and body.
Serious and seasoned devotees who plan the trek to Sri Pada are also known to observe penance; refraining from eating meat, consuming alcohol and having physical contact with member of the opposite sex. This is a time of love and compassion and and provides for the extending of that helping hand to the devotee who struggles to keep pace with the rest during the challenging journey.
This journey the sacred shrine on the hill which offers many challenges to devotees has retained its ability to unite communities for over a